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Anxiety Chronicles is a series from The Lily that examines the journeys different women have with anxiety.

This week, we hear from Aaliyah Nurideen, a licensed psychiatric social worker, community mental health therapist, advocate, writer and speaker.

Interested in contributing to a future installment of Anxiety Chronicles? Fill out this form.

My history with anxiety

In hindsight, I realize that I’ve struggled with anxiety for a long time, but for me, anxiety looked different than what I originally considered.

I have always been a person that wants everything to be in order, perfect even; and what was most important to me for a long time was how I looked. My hair had to be perfectly in order, no flyaways in sight. My outfit had to be perfectly coordinated, and my makeup had to be perfectly blended and flawless. I took great pride in feeling “put together” and never realized that in fact my need to look in control was due to a profound feeling that I was not in control of my outside world. I felt like I had to control whatever I could, which is how my anxiety manifested into perfectionism.

How anxiety presents itself physically

I know that I am feeling particularly anxious when I notice tension in my body. And that comes from doing a mindful body-scan in which I can identify the tight muscles within my body, having a clenched jaw and poor posture.

Sweating excessively and feeling my body temperature increase are also signs that I am feeling anxious.

How anxiety presents itself mentally

My experience with the mental manifestation of anxiety looks like overthinking, overanalyzing, self-criticism and occasionally catastrophic thinking. I would find myself feeling immediately preoccupied with thoughts of the worst-case scenario or distracted by thoughts related to what is not within my control in that moment.

If I was invited somewhere last minute, that would send me into an overanalyzing binge. If I was not given ample time to prepare, I would become worried, stressed and uneasy.

What a day when my anxiety is at its worst looks like

At its worst, my anxiety regarding perfectionism has caused me to be late or completely absent from major events. If that morning or evening thing did not go as planned, I would spiral into a feeling of losing control and that feeling and subsequent thoughts would become too overwhelming. The thought of this one aspect not panning out would feel like nothing else mattered. There were times in which I could not bear the thought of showing up as an incomplete version of myself, therefore I would avoid doing so all together.

My go-to coping mechanism

Now, I have been able to release myself from the shackles of perfection anxiety. It has been quite a journey and I am grateful to no longer operate in that constricting space.

Naturally, I still desire order and organization, but I am able to center my thoughts; reminding myself that there will always be factors that are not in my control and it is not the end of the world if things do not go exactly as planned.

I also challenge my thoughts and look for the evidence to proof my negative thoughts wrong when I notice that I am close to the territory of over-analyzing a situation.

Practicing extending myself grace and compassion has been a huge coping technique for me. I’ve learned to rewire my expectations of myself to show up as authentically as possible, flaws and all.

What I wish people knew about anxiety

It is most important for people to know that anxiety exists on a spectrum. There are individuals with high-functioning anxiety that externally appear one way, however internally they are dealing with mental exhaustion, overthinking and self-criticism. I hope that people can learn to foster empathy, encouragement and patience for themselves if they are struggling with any symptoms of anxiety.

This is what helps with my anxiety: ‘Giving people the opportunity to understand’

I’m trying to talk more openly about my ongoing struggles

‘It feels like my body is literally caving in’: This is how I experience anxiety

‘No one understands the paranoia’

Positive affirmations and playing solitaire: This is what helps with my anxiety

The presence of anxiety is a constant in my life